Safety and health at work in the context of an ageing workforce


2: Healthy workplaces for all ages

Safety and health at work in the context of an ageing workforce

A legal obligation

Employers have a legal duty to ensure the safety and health of workers in every aspect related to the work. This includes assessing the risks to the safety and health of workers and adapting the work to the individual.

The law also obliges employers to treat workers equally and prohibits discrimination based on age or . The 2010 Equality Act protects older people and disabled people from discrimination and employers have to make reasonable adjustments for disabled individuals and ensure that reasonable steps are taken to avoid disadvantage.  

However, to be able to ensure full equality in practice, the principle of equal treatment does not prevent employers from adopting specific measures to prevent or compensate for disadvantages linked to age or . This includes measures to protect health and safety at work or aimed at promoting the integration of older people, or people with disabilities into the working environment. 

Considering age and diversity in risk assessments

is the cornerstone of effective health and safety management. When carrying out risk assessments, it is important to take into account workforce diversity and pay special attention to workers who may be especially vulnerable: young workers, older workers, people with disabilities and women. In the UK, HSE and HSENI provide information on how to carry out risk assessments as well as consideration of vulnerable workers including older and younger workers.

Age is one aspect of diversity, and specific risk factors related to age need to be considered in risk assessments. In the case of young workers, risks include lack of experience, and for older workers, risks are related to potential changes in functional capacities. 

Individuals vary greatly in terms of health and fitness and these differences increase with age, therefore assumptions must not be made purely based on age.

Key points that should be considered in relation to are:

  • Carry out or review risk assessments regularly;
  • Consider the tasks involved in specific jobs;
  • Corrective measures should be based on capabilities and objective risks rather than solely on age; and
  • Provide regular health checks to identify problems.

More information about age-sensitive is available here.

Adapting the workplace

Based on the , employers might need to make adjustments to match the changing capacities and health status of workers. Measures should be based on objective risks and workers' capabilities, rather than on their age. 

Examples of adaptations include:

  • Adapting existing equipment or providing new equipment to eliminate or reduce manual handling, repetitive and forceful movements, awkward postures;
  • Providing adjustable workstations to suit all users of all ages operating them;
  • Rotating tasks;
  • Automating routine or monotonous tasks;
  • Changing shift patterns; and
  • Adjusting lighting.

Workplace adaptations should be dynamic and continuous processes based on risk assessments throughout a person’s career. Good workplace design and work organisation benefit workers of all age groups.

Examples of good practices

Here (OSH professional's module) you can read more about age-related changes in functional capacities, their potential implications for work, and how this can be addressed through occupational safety and health management. 

Holistic approach to occupational safety and health and the concept

Managing occupational safety and health in the context of an ageing workforce requires a holistic approach, taking into account various factors that influence a person’s ability to work. The concept represents such an approach. Learn more about the work ability concept here (next section).